The Shock Of Night – A Review


cover_ByDivineRightSo if this is a review of The Shock Of Night, why is there a picture of the cover of a different book? Preceding the latest CSFF feature is the FREE e-novella entitled By Divine Right. It’s well worth the time, and did I mention, it’s free? It’s a great introduction to the fantasy world of The Darkwater Saga and it’s protagonist, Willet Dura.

The fantasy novel we’re featuring, The Shock Of Night by Patrick Carr, is in many respects familiar. The story takes place in an imagined world that shares many similarities with medieval times, and there is an element of “magic,” depicted as gifts bestowed by Aer, the God of the world. But another thread of familiarity is the crime-solving component of a good murder mystery. Indeed, The Shock Of Night is somewhat of a genre mashup, which makes it unique, interesting, fresh, compelling.

It is definitely an adult book, not because there’s bad language or sex, but because it’s complex and layered. The book is the first in a series—The Darkwater Saga—so there are many unanswered questions and threads that aren’t brought to completion. Still, the end is satisfying in the sense that a beginning is confirmed.

The Story

I’m going with the ridiculously short version.

Willet Dura, the king’s reeve, stumbles into a mysterious gift—the ability to delve into the thoughts of people he touches—in the process of investigating a murder. He soon finds himself in the hands of a secret society calling themselves the Vigil who also have this gift. Their job is to deal with people who have entered the Darkwater Forest because 99.0 percent of them go mad. Willet Dura is the lone exception.

While trying to solve the original murder, which the Vigil suspect him of committing, Dura uncovers a much greater plot—one that threatens the king and country.

Strengths

This novel is situated in a well-developed world. The place feels real, with a history (and a map!!), an economy, religious orders, class struggles, political intrigue, and more.

The story is filled with intrigue and is layered with subplots that point to greater purpose. There is murder, betrayal, warfare, secrecy. And yet it’s a very personal story, dealing with doubt and inner darkness.

The main character, Willet Dura, is a flawed person, with a darkness in his heart, but a darkness that doesn’t control him. Nevertheless, he is a bit reckless, brash, stubborn, but also compassionate and loyal and sacrificial. He’s someone a reader can care about.

The themes of the story are largely left open because there are more books to come. There’s the obvious struggle between light and dark—murders and later, attacks, come only at night and have some connection to the Darkwater. Then there is the thread that points to the inner scars of men who have gone to war. Today we refer to this effect of war as PTSD, and this story taps into the reality of such.

Another theme deals with the church, its obligations to society, the four orders and the Clast which defies the theology of them all. More prominent is the socio-economic theme, exhibited by a city divided along economic lines and ruled by the wealthy elite who also hoard the gifts given by Aer for the betterment of the world.

In other words, there’s much that this book delves into.

Weaknesses

My biggest concern was something different from most mysteries I’ve read. I found that the characters knew things the readers didn’t know. At times there was a suggestion, a hint, a conclusion that the characters came to, and there seemed to be the expectation that readers would reach that same understanding, but I didn’t always think there was enough information to go by.

In addition, there were events that took place that the main character didn’t know about. So as he was surprised, so were readers. The problem in this not knowing is that readers can’t anticipate or fear for the main character. Or hope for success. Because we didn’t know all the plans or all the dangers. In short, I think the story could have used a bit more foreshadowing.

Oddly enough, though the protagonist’s portions of the story are told in the first person, and though Willet Dura has flaws and strengths to make him believable, I didn’t find him someone I cared for deeply.

I tried to figure out why, and what came to me was that I didn’t know what Willet Dura wanted. Oh, sure, I knew he wanted to solve the murder and that he wanted to marry Lady Gael, but I didn’t see him wanting to deal with his flaw—the darkness that resided in his heart. He seemed willing to live with it. So the things he wanted were primarily external and kept me from cheering him on for his own sake, not just for the things he was fighting for.

But maybe that’s just me.

Recommendation

I’m so glad I read The Shock Of Night. It’s exciting to find another fantasy series with such a well-developed world. Plus I love mysteries, so this is the best of both worlds from my perspective.

The novella—a free ebook, in case you missed that—entitled By Divine Right introduces readers to the character. It’s interesting and well written and lets readers see Willet Dura in his role as reeve, solving mysteries and hiding his own darkness. I’d recommend reading By Divine Right first, then moving to The Shock Of Night.

I highly recommend both to readers who enjoy being challenged by though-provoking stories with many layers. You’ll be entertained, but there’s no fluff here. You’ll have lots to chew on for days and days.

BTW, I received a copy of this book courtesy of the publisher for the purpose of reviewing it during the CSFF Blog Tour.

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CSFF Blog Tour-Storm Siren, Day 3


Mary Weber's web site background pic

Steampunk, classic fantasy, superhero fantasy, a fantasy mash up; a slow start, a terrific plot, a surprising twist, a devastating ending—thoughts and opinions abound when it comes to Storm Siren by Mary Weber. And so they should. This book isn’t your run-of-the-mill fantasy or your ho-hum-been-there-done-that young adult novel.

My Review

The Story

Nym is unique—a female Elemental. Her power is over the weather, except it seems more like it’s over her since she can’t control the storms she calls up or the lightning strikes she detonates.

As a slave she also has no control over who owns her or what they’ll want her to do. Until Adora buys her. Now she has a choice—learn to use her powers to help the country of Faelen in their war against Bron, a nation with superior forces and weapons, or die for her crimes.

Choosing what seems to be the lesser of two evils, Nym enters into training with another Elemental. Soon she’s caught up in court intrigue and discovers those who surround her aren’t what they appear to be.

As her abilities progress, the need for her to use them to save Faelen grows urgent. But the question surfaces—is Faelen worth saving?

Now she has a choice to make again, and it’s complicated because of the feelings she’s developing—and struggling against—for her trainer, Eogan.

Strengths

I think the greatest strength of Storm Siren is Nym’s voice. She is brash and quirky, a bit unafraid, maybe a little fatalistic, but much of the attitude is a cover up for the fear she feels. Not fear for herself, but of herself. She knows she can wreak havoc and she doesn’t want to kill any more undeserving people.

Imagine her turmoil, then, when she’s bought to do just that to a whole army.

Another strength of this novel is the plot twists, the intrigue, the unexpected. It’s hard to know who to side with, what to hope Nym will do because her path is anything but clear.

Another strength is the way Ms. Weber weaves in the backstory through the use of a minstrel’s song, later repeated and expanded during one of Adora’s parties. I suspect much of the Christian worldview comes through in that song.

“The Monster and the Sea of Elisedd’s Sadness” tells the story of Faelen’s foolish king who made a deal with the devil—well, with a monster. In order secure a peace treaty, he agreed to kill the Elementals. Here’s the key section:

” ‘Twas the night compassion forsoooooook us.” He’s singing, referring to the night an agreement was struck between Faelen’s past king and the great, flesh-eating Draewulf. The price of which had been Faelen’s children. “And the big sea, she roared and spit up her foam at the shape-shifter’s trickery and our fooooooolish king.”

I swallow and feel my amusement over how much he’s enjoying himself catch in my throat at what I know comes next.

“The ocean, she’s begging for our salvation. Begging for blood that will set our children free.”

And for a moment I swear I can feel the sea waves calling, begging my blood to set us all free.

Salvation? Blood? Those are certainly Christian images, but Nym is no Christ figure. So how much of the Christian worldview is in this story? Hard to say. Of course, when I say “story” I mean then series in its entirety. At this point, I see hints and suggestions: a great evil that destroys and lies and possesses, one that has been invited in, not declared the enemy he actually is. A people robbed of their children who ought to be their hope and salvation. And blood needed to set them all free.

That’s pretty much the way the world looks to a Christian, but these elements of the Christian worldview operate in the background of the story—at least this first installment of the story. That’s also a strength, I think.

Weaknesses

The opening scene is captivating. Nym is intriguing, sassy—a female protagonist who appears to be strong minded though clearly something troubles her. From that point, however, the story slows down for reasons I addressed in my Day 2 post.

I’d like to see Nym take a more proactive approach to her life and situation. I would have been more emotionally invested in her plight, I think, if I’d seen her make plans and try to better her situation rather than accept whatever was thrown her way.

Recommendation

I cared about Nym, but from a distance. I thought the action and intrigue drove the story. I liked the romance and wanted Nym to learn to trust. I wanted her to learn control, too, and I wanted her to be a hero.

All in all, I think readers who like fantasy, who like superhero type stories, who appreciate a well crafted novel, will be fans of Mary Weber and the series Storm Siren kicks off. They’ll be especially happy to learn that book two, Siren’s Fury, releases in June. Now’s the time to get on board with the first in the series.

You might also be interested in connecting with Mary Weber on Facebook or at her web site where I’m sure you can learn where else she hangs out.

Published in: on April 15, 2015 at 7:06 pm  Comments Off on CSFF Blog Tour-Storm Siren, Day 3  
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Review – The Color Of Sorrow Isn’t Blue


The Color Of Grief Isn't Blue coverI’m embarrassed. I planned to post a review of Sharon Souza’s novel The Color Of Sorrow Isn’t Blue on Amazon and figured the easiest way was to copy my review from my own site. But when I did a search for the book, I couldn’t find it. I looked through the Reviews category, searched for the book by title, searched by Sharon’s name. I was so sure I’d written a review. But no. As it turned out, I’d written an endorsement, not a review.

YIKES! I must have had a senior moment. How embarrassing!

Well, I thought I needed to remedy the matter at once. I wrote a short review on Amazon and now will give a more complete analysis here. First, this is the endorsement I wrote. I’m not experienced writing these so I don’t know how much of it was worth quoting. But this reflects my thoughts shortly after I finished reading the book:

The Color of Sorrow Isn’t Blue by Sharon K. Souza is a powerful story, real and raw. Souza’s writing is beautiful, but it is also true. I don’t know of a novel that does a better job showing the depth of grief and the nearly insurmountable job of climbing out of the pit it creates. There are no pat answers in this story—only the reality of friendship and a gradual realization of God’s constancy. This book will touch the heart of anyone who has experienced the pain of loss and show that doubting and despair don’t have to be the end game.

Interestingly, my review on Amazon was quite different. I no longer see the book as something that will touch the heart of people who know the pain of loss. Now I understand more clearly, we all know the pain of loss to one degree or another. Consequently, this book is for everyone. So, without further ado. . .

The Story.

Bristol Taylor’s daughter is gone. Disappeared. In a moment of seeming safety, a simple, understandable choice opened the door to the unknown, and Bristol has suffered the pain and regret and guilt ever since.

A year later she can’t face the inevitable media regurgitation of those painful days and weeks and months and wants to escape. She plans to head off to her stepmother’s “beach house”—a twenty-foot trailer situated not far from the beach.

To her surprise her sister, best friend, and stepmother refuse to let her face the anniversary alone. Instead the weekend turns out to be anything but the escape Bristol had planned.

Strengths.

First, I suppose people might call this book a “character driven” novel. I mean there’s no dramatic car-chase scene, no passionate romance, no cops chasing down clues. Instead, the horror has already happened and this is a book about dealing. How do you go on when the worst has happened, or might have. In reality, there’s this thread of the unknown which adds uncertainty to Bristol’s loss and robs her of closure while draining her of hope.

It’s also a book about relationships—Bristol and her husband, Bristol and the three women who determine to see her through another day of crisis, Bristol and God. So, yes, you’d have to say character is front and center.

And yet . . . There is no lack of action and more importantly, no lack of tension. Bristol has a goal which she maintains throughout. She thinks she knows what she needs, but it’s clear fairly soon that she’s wrong. It’s not as clear whether or not she’ll turn from the course she’s determined to take. I mean, she’s determined!

So this story is not slow-paced. In actuality, it’s structured in a unique way, with what happened before liberally interspersed with what’s happening now. In some ways it’s a little like changing points of view.

In one section the story is the remembrance of a busy, happy, proud mother about life with her loving husband and their beautiful daughter. Then the story swings back to the present where husband and wife are nearly estranged and their daughter is gone. Together these two narratives weave the entire story together until the reader understands on a visceral level what Bristol has lost and why.

Besides telling a terrific story, Sharon has done so using beautiful prose. Bristol is an artist and she sees life as an artist does. Sharon has captured that aspect of her protagonist without slowing the story for long descriptive paragraphs. Rather, Bristol’s artistic nature colors her voice.

Weaknesses.

I don’t have much here. For a very short stretch, I wasn’t sure I liked Bristol. She had my sympathy right away, but it was clear something wasn’t right between her and her husband. It was early in the story and I didn’t have a clue why she seemed to be pushing him away. I knew that was the wrong thing for her to do, but I didn’t know her enough to be in her corner hoping she’d realize her folly.

As it turned out, the story went far deeper than I expected, very quickly. Why she acted the way she did became clear and it added one more thing Bristol had to work through—if she could. By the end, my heart was breaking for Bristol.

But that early reaction . . . well, I remember it months after reading the novel. In fact, I remember the entire story almost as if I finished it yesterday. That’s how powerful it affected me.

So, no, I can’t do a good job balancing my review with what could have made it better. I mean, I generally like a fairly straightforward, chronological telling, but I wouldn’t change a thing in the way Sharon chose to tell this story, the past and present threads woven together in such a way that the unique structure actually became a strength.

OK, here’s one. I didn’t ever quite have the setting clear in my mind—where was this trailer in relation to other structures and how close was it actually to the beach? I remember wondering in a place or two, but actually those could have been in the story and I missed them because I was focused on something else. Ultimately the logistics didn’t confuse me or disrupt the story.

That’s all the “weaknesses” I’ve got.

Recommendation.

I can only say, The Color Of Sorrow Isn’t Blue is a memorable book, a powerful story, completely void of preachiness or easy answers or platitudes. It’s honest and the questioning touches your soul. Because sorrow is such a universal experience, I’m tempted to say, this book is a must read for everyone. But I know women will like it more than men. It’s really a woman’s book because it tells the story of the mother, of the wife. Guys could gain a lot. I just don’t know how much they’d understand. Oh, not intellectually. They could understand the words, but I don’t know if they’d understand the emotion. I mean, a big part of the story has to do with a wife submitting to her husband. Guys should read it, but I don’t know if they can get it. But there it is. A must read for women who enjoy good literature.

Rebels by Jill Williamson – CSFF Blog Tour, Day 3


Rebelscover

Rebels by Jill Williamson – The Review

Of necessity the following will contain some spoilers, though I will make every effort to keep them to a minimum.

Also, in conjunction with CSFF, I received a free review copy of Rebels from the publisher. This review is in no way influenced by that fact.

The Story. At the end of Outcasts, brothers Mason and Omar have been captured after their rescue operation. They’ve been slated for liberation, whatever that is. No one seems to know.

The rest of the Glenrock community under Levi’s leadership is now free—free to live underground with the Kindred, a group of people who have built a separate culture apart from the rebels and from the Safe Landers and who want nothing to do with outsiders. At least that’s the attitude of some, including the Kindred’s matriarch.

Levi’s next goal is to free the women of Jack’s Peak, their neighboring village, being held in the Safe Land harem where they are to act as surrogates. Once all the people from the villages are together, he wants to find a way out of the Safe Lands.

Meanwhile, Omar and Mason go through the liberation procedure and end up in the Lowlands with all the other liberated people—strikers, who received three x’s for crimes they committed, and everyone over forty, including the older citizens of Glenrock and Jack’s Peak.

Here everyone is assigned to heavy tasks which produce all the food and drugs and other commerce for those in the Highlands and Midlands. In essence they are in a penal colony.

Mason and Omar must first survive in the brutal prison environment, but they are as determined as ever to find a way to reunite their people and leave. But how? There is no way to communicate with the others to let them know they are alive.

Strengths. The list here is long. The series as a unit had incredible coherence—what was true in one book was true in the next and the next. A bit of backstory in one book becomes the central motivation of a character in the final book.

The parts all fit. This was especially impressive to me because I had so many questions at the end of Outcasts and saw no way they would all be answered in one more volume: who were the hooded, secret guild members, what was liberation, what would happen between Omar and Shaylinn, between Mason and Ciddah, would Mason find a cure for the thin plague, would Omar stay in the Safe Lands if everyone else found a way out? Questions, questions, questions. How could all these moving parts fit together and be resolved in one more book? Jill did a remarkable job to make it happen.

Further, the characters continued to develop and grow—even Levi. More than one CSFF tour participant has commented on how much they didn’t like Levi.

I never felt animosity toward him. He was the one who had to deal with the dead bodies of the men who had cared for him and mentored him and served as examples for him. Besides, Jemma loved him.

True, at first he didn’t do well as the elder of his people. He brought the same bullying tactics to the job as his father had used, but he learned. His change is most clearly shown by his agreeing to act as the Owl in Omar’s absence and his admission later to Omar himself that the subversive, secret message bearer of truth was a good idea.

Omar, of course, changed the most, but Shay grew up and learned to accept herself, even stand up for herself when she needed to.

Mason grew too, most clearly seen in his admission that he’d been arrogant to think he could find a cure for the plague on his own. In many respects, the Safe Lands were good for Mason because he finally got to use the abilities he had and to live the way he thought was right. He still had challenges, though, and found himself more dependent on God’s mercy at times than he ever had been before.

In short, all the characters grew and changed. But what’s more, they each seemed so real. As tour participant Meagan said, “I will miss them all and hope that at some point in the future we may revisit this land as they recreate what they once had.”

That’s one of the highest compliments an author can get, I think, because truly these characters became so real, they seem to be out there somewhere, living their lives, and it would be great to be able to “catch up.”

The story itself was full of intrigue and conflict and danger and suspense. But one thing I noticed. Through it all, there were partial successes and reasons for joy—the liberation of the Jack’s Peak women, the birth of Shaylinn’s babies, Mason getting to task in the medical facility, and the brothers finding their mom. The moments of hope offered a counterbalance to all the fear and loss and oppression, so the story had a great rhythm, not a monochromatic note of despair until the end.

I also thought the story shouted through the action and events which worldview is strongest and best, though clearly there wasn’t a black and white choice (how’s that for a bit of confusion—can’t say more without giving too much away). In the process, some of the hardest issues teens face today were addressed—suicide, drug addiction, illicit sex, friendship and betrayal, forgiveness, lust, guilt, and more.

But adults weren’t left alone either. The truth reveals that Levi’s dad abused his wife, and Levi’s bullying and Jordan’s anger are clearly shown as counter-productive. As Levi changes, another legalistic figure moves to the forefront—Tovah, matriarch of the Kindred. Except, as much as it’s tempting to hate her for how she treats the outsiders and how she tries to fence in her boys, she’s the one who steps in to help Shaylinn when she needs it most.

In short, no one is a caricature, not even Lawton, who does much of the evil he does out of a sense of self-preservation.

Weaknesses. The book isn’t perfect—I don’t think too many are. 😉 But the minor things I might quibble over aren’t worth detracting from the high quality of this story. OK, here’s an example. As Levi made his plans to escape the Safe Lands and return to Glenrock, I wanted to shake him—don’t you realize, they’ll just come and get you again? You couldn’t stop them the first time. What makes you think you can ever go back to your village and continue to live in such close proximity of the Safe Lands again?

See? Not a real issue because . . . well, because of what happened instead. 😀

Recommendation. The Safe Lands series is a must read for teens, for adults with teens, for Christian writers who want to see how to write believable fiction with a subtle Christian message that isn’t preachy, and for readers who enjoy a good story. (Yes, I’m a fan!)

CSFF Blog Tour – Broken Wings by Shannon Dittemore, Day 3


brokenwings-coverToday is review day, but first I want to mention a couple of my fellow CSFF Blog Tour participants’ posts for Broken Wings by Shannon Dittemore. For the first time in tour history we have a video review. As a matter of fact JoJo Sutis posted videos all three days of the tour, but check out her review. It’s pretty cool hearing the enthusiasm in her voice as she gives her recommendation at the end–something that words on a screen can’t quite capture.

Also Karielle @ Books à la Mode has a wonderful interview with Shannon Dittemore, and she arranged for a publisher book giveaway–a great opportunity for anyone interested in reading the Angel Eyes Trilogy but thinking it’s hard to spend money on three books. Well, the winner of the giveaway can buy Angel Eyes now, enjoy Broken Wings as a freebie, and start saving for the final installment Dark Halo coming out in August.

Another participant–one of three new to the tour this month–is also holding a giveaway, so anyone interested in winning a free copy of Broken Wings might consider entering both to double the chances. This second offer is from Emma or Audrey Engel.

And now my review.

The Story. Broken Wings continues the Angel Eyes story where the first book left off. Teenagers Brielle and Jake are looking forward to a future together, but Jake now has a secret. Before long, trouble surfaces in the form of a young woman who shows interest in Brielle’s father and who seems to have a negative influence on him because he has become belligerent toward Jake and has started drinking heavily.

If those real life issues weren’t enough, the forces of evil have targeted Jake and Brielle because of their special gifts–his to heal, hers to see beyond the terrestrial.

Strengths. I posted yesterday about Shannon Dittemore’s quality of writing because I wanted to do it justice. That still didn’t happen, but suffice it to say, I think the strong voice and the poetic language are huge strengths in the story. But so is the theme.

I don’t often rave about the theme (which, by the way, I’m not giving away, because that would be a huge spoiler) of a novel because some readers may immediately conclude that the book was preachy. For me, it’s just the opposite. A theme isn’t really well done if it stands like gaudy decor that can’t be overlooked. Shannon weaves the themes of her story seamlessly in with the other elements of character development and unfolding plot.

Speaking of which, there is lots going on in this book–conflict in the heavenlies, discord at home, mysteries surrounding Brielle’s mother and Jake’s parents, and a key issue of trust. Never a dull moment, you might say.

Weaknesses. There’s one aspect that Broken Wings can’t get away from–it reads like a middle book. That’s because it IS a middle book. Although Shannon does a masterful job in bringing each book to a resolution, there’s no denying that the Angel Eyes Trilogy is one grand story and Broken Wings is the middle piece, the equivalent of The Two Towers to Lord of the Rings. Is that really a weakness? Only in the sense that readers not knowing what they were picking up might be dismayed–either by not having read Angel Eyes, Book 1 or by realizing that much of the mystery won’t be answered until Dark Halo, Book 3.

Earlier this week another issue came up in a post by Shannon McDermott. She said she found she didn’t care as much for the two main characters in this second installment. I realized I had a similar experience but for a different reason. I didn’t find anything the characters did or their unfolding personalities objectionable. In fact, in many ways I learned to know them better, especially Brielle, because of the interactions they had with different people.

Then why did I feel some distance? I believe it’s because I didn’t know early in the story what the characters wanted or needed. There was lots going on, mind you, but it seems the characters were mostly responding to what was happening to them as opposed to making things happen. It’s the latter that gets me cheering for characters, hoping for their success, fearing their failure. Certainly this was what I experienced during the climax which was beautifully engineered. I would have felt closer to the characters if this had been the case throughout the story.

Recommendation. In no way am I any less wildly enthusiastic about the Angel Eyes Trilogy or Shannon Dittemlore as a writer. In fact, I’ve noticed on the tour reviewers who were mildly in favor of Book 1 are now declaring themselves to be fans or moving these books into the category of favorites. More than one has said they believe Broken Wings is a stronger book. It’s an indication, I think, that these books have what Christian readers are looking for–a wonderful story, told well, which reveals deep spiritual truth. I rank the Angel Eyes Trilogy as Must Read for Christian teenage girls, and I highly recommend it for all teens and adults.

In conjunction with the CSFF Blog Tour, I received a free copy of this book from the publisher.

CSFF Blog Tour – Beckon by Tom Pawlik, Day 3


An interesting set of posts this month for the CSFF Blog Tour featuring Tom Pawlik’s newest adult speculative suspense, Beckon. There’s been discussion about the characters, Alzheimer disease, immortality, abortion (here on my blog), body count, arachnophobia, reading at night (or not), spelunking, and more. Without a doubt, this book made an impression!

The Story. Jack Kendrick wants to find out what happened to his missing archaeologist father so that he can rehabilitate his legacy. He finds a clue pointing to his dad’s last known destination, an Indian reservation in Wyoming. He talks his best friend Rudy into a road trip and heads west. They learn helpful information from an Indian legend and follow a guide into a cave that leads to a system of tunnels where they encounter horror and death.

Elina Gutierrez is a suspended LAPD cop. When she learns that her cousin is missing, she determines to do whatever it takes to find him. She knows she shouldn’t, but she sets up a one-officer stakeout and follows a van transporting immigrant workers to supposed out-of-state jobs. But rather than going to Nevada as they’d been told, the van leads her into Wyoming.

George Wilcox is at his wit’s end because his beloved wife is dying a horrible death–first losing her memories and her very personality. When he’s contacted by someone in Wyoming promising him a cure, he eagerly–though not without some skepticism–packs Miriam into the car and drives north. To the town of Beckon.

Yes, all three of these story threads weave together in the little backwater town whose nearest neighbors are the N’watu, the people of legend. Something deadly is going on in Beckon. Or is it something miraculous?

Strengths. Author Tom Pawlik is an outstanding writer. His descriptions are vivid, his story concept unique. He’s organized the book into four distinct sections, from three different points of view and in reverse chronological order. It’s not your everyday kind of book!

Mr. Pawlik has also created believable characters, each with a specific need that drives them to act. This in turn creates tension and pushes the story forward. Add in danger and suspense and the story becomes gripping.

As I alluded to in my first-day tour post, the story raises significant questions–ones I believe to be key in our present-day culture. Central is the matter of the value of life. Are there any “throw away” people?

In my mind, this issue of necessity includes life in the womb. Are these little lives less important than the big lives of those outside the womb? Is it moral to sacrifice those little lives for the betterment of big lives?

Mr. Pawlik doesn’t just raise questions–he gives faces, and storylines, to people on both sides. Suddenly the clear-cut answers seem a little murkier.

At this point one of the characters who is a Christian steps up and does something that gives some answers for anyone thinking about the issues. Note, this character does not preach a sermon or even argue the points. She simply does something consistent with the Bible without saying that’s what she’s doing.

Which actually brings me to the next part of the review.

Weaknesses. In many ways, the act of nobility I referred to in the last section would have been perfect as part of the climax. But the story continued for some time after this pivotal event. From my perspective, the big question was answered–whose worldview would win out? The events after that point, then, didn’t carry the same significance, I didn’t think. They were a bit of fluff, if you can call horrific events “fluff.”

The other area of weakness is one I share as a writer–not presenting characters in a way that allows readers to connect with them. Of course Beckon is not a character-driven novel, and readers were pulled along by the tension, the suspense, the conflict between good and evil even if they didn’t feel particularly attached to the characters. It was a thrill ride, an adventure. At times all you could do was hold on tight and see where you ended up.

But …

Part of me thinks the story would be that much stronger if the reader cared more deeply for these people. They seemed believable, surely. They had real wants, serious dilemmas, emotional and spiritual crises to go along with the physical disasters they faced. Readers should have loved them, cheered them on, cared deeply about their choices. If we had, this book would have raced to the top of the Best Book lists, I’m fairly confident.

Recommendation. I’m not inclined to read thriller type books, but after having read Vanish, Mr. Pawlik’s Christy Award winning debut novel, I knew I would read whatever he wrote. Beckon did not dissuade me from that position. Yes, there were horrific events, but there was also hope and help and sacrifice.

I highly recommend Beckon to adults who love the creepy, the bone-chilling, the fear-inspiring, and to readers who want to consider the issues of life and immortality. It’s a good story filled with tension and intrigue and packaged in a unique structure that enhances the reading experience.

Wrap. If you’d like to learn more about Tom Pawlik and his books, visit him at his blog, web site, on Facebook, or follow him on Twitter.

Watch for the tour wrap on Friday right here at A Christian Worldview of Fiction. You’ll have a chance to vote for the May Top Tour Blogger.

And finally, the required disclaimer: in conjunction with the CSFF Blog Tour, I received a free copy of this book from the publisher, which, I might add, in no way influenced my evaluation of it.

Published in: on May 23, 2012 at 6:03 pm  Comments Off on CSFF Blog Tour – Beckon by Tom Pawlik, Day 3  
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CSFF Blog Tour – Faery Rebels: Spell Hunter, Day 3


CSFF’ers are having a good time on this tour for Faery Rebels: Spell Hunter by R. J. Anderson. There’s some excellent content to enjoy. You won’t want to miss YA author Sally Apokedak‘s review, Tim Hick‘s thoughtful summation of its value, or Fred Warren‘s humorous take on manly men reading this faery story.

Now it’s my turn to review this wonderful middle grade/YA/adult book. Already I tipped my hand—I think this is one of those stories that qualifies as a crossover. It is not limited to a certain-aged reader or to a specific gender or to a particular worldview. All this book needs, in my opinion, is more recognition.

The Story. The main character is called Bryony after her egg-mother, but when she becomes a teen, she chooses to go by Knife. However, her real name, known only to her and to those to whom she wishes to give it is … well, when you read the book, then she will have chosen to tell you, too. 😉

Bryony lives in a faery colony, one that has a number of oddities about it. For one, the denizens are all female. For another, only the queen has magic. Then too, they are no longer making any thing new or creative. And they stay in their home, a large oak tree situated near a house inhabited by Humans the faeries are deathly afraid of—so much so that the queen only allows Gatherers and her Hunter to venture outside.

Ah, but Byrony wants so much to fly free into the wide world. When she comes of age, the queen assigns her an adult job, and to her surprise she is chosen to be the Hunter. And so her adventures begin as she protects the Gatherers, hunts meat for the colony, and encounters a human. Or, more accurately, re-encounters him.

And there I’ll stop. You have enough to get the flavor of the story and perhaps the drift, though it takes an astute reader to see where this tale is going. Which brings me to the next part of this review.

Strengths. In my opinion, Faery Rebels: Spell Hunter has everything a reader could want. The characters are realistic—yes, even as faeries; if I didn’t know better, I’d be tempted to check the tree outside my window to see who was living there! 😛 I especially loved seeing the human world through the eyes of the faeries. So a boy is a monster and a wheelchair a throne.

The plot was excellent too, and for me, that means, unpredictable. Lots of surprises, but all of it was so well foreshadowed that none of it seemed outlandish or jarring. There was intrigue, twists, mystery, friendship, self-sacrificial love.

The themes of this book were wonderfully woven into the fabric of the story. No authorial commandeering to make sure the reader “gets it.” And of course, not everyone will get it all. I’m sure I didn’t. But that’s OK. The central themes are ones that come from the ultimate choices and actions of the characters and will have an impact, one way or the other.

The Christian worldview influences I saw include the Gardner, though he is invoked more as a curse word than anything. The faery colony has all the earmarks of a world that has experienced a Fall. Great loses, to the point that the faeries no longer remember what life was like Before or how things got to be The Way They Are Now. They certainly don’t know how to fix things, though the queen tries. And as is true about self-effort, she makes a hash of things.

There’s also a picture of the Incarnation, though I don’t want to say too much about that so as not to spoil the story. I already mentioned the self-sacrifice, and the cool thing is, these two—incarnation and self-sacrifice—are shown by two different characters, two different types of Christ. In other words, the story is not attempting to be allegorical, but there is typology for those who wish to see it.

Weaknesses. In my opinion, the only weakness is the limitations put upon the book by calling it Middle Grade fantasy. The implication is that the story is for children only. Not so. Faery Rebels: Spell Hunter needs to find a wider market because it is that good.

Recommendation. I suppose you can already tell I’m enthusiastic about this one. I’m going to go out on a limb. Even as Narnia is a series written for children but enjoyed by young and old alike, so too is Faery Rebels: Spell Hunter. I recommend this book for anyone who loves a good story.

The Enclave – A Review


Today is a first. The CSFF Blog Tour for Karen Hancock’s recent science fiction/suspense release, The Enclave is overlapping the Christian Fiction Blog Alliance tour. That’s a lot of people blogging about one book today. 😀

Already a number of CSFF’ers have put up thoughtful commentary. I suggest you check out the posts by Elizabeth Williams, specifically her overall reactions and her closer look at the science aspect of this speculative story. I also recommend Fred Warren’s posts (start with this first one). Don’t let his humor and light tone fool you into discounting his insightful views. And be sure to read Karen’s latest commentary about The Enclave. You can find a complete list of the CSFF’ers participating in the tour here.

The Story. A research scientist, once discredited for his work with cloning, but now rich and famous, has constructed an institution in Arizona to examine longevity. Two of his new hires are Christians, one committed to his faith, the other struggling with doubts.

In another story thread, a young man living in a closed community—an enclave—revering the leader they know as Father, begins to suspect that not everything he’s been told and believed all his life is true.

Strengths. Karen Hancock’s writing is strong, borne out by the four Christy Awards she won for her first four novels. She creates scenes that transport readers into new places and has done so again in The Enclave. She describes characters in such a way they seem convincingly believable.

In addition, The Enclave introduces topics that Christians would do well to think about. The issue of cloning is at the forefront. What better way to explore the ethics of this kind of scientific “advancement” than through fiction?

Of equal importance is the exposure of the means and purposes of an anti-christ—a leader who knowingly takes the place of God before his followers.

In addition to these important topics, The Enclave has strong faith elements. A scientist who is a Christian believing in creation, not evolution; holding to the sanctity of life; willing to put himself in uncomfortable, even dangerous places because he believes God has called him to the task. In addition there is an interesting tangent that shows the power of God’s word.

In fact, my favorite part of the book is when the character Zowan, a member of the Enclave, struggles to understand the bits of the Bible he has found. The few pages he rescued from burning have the subtitle Key Study, and this is what he calls the book. He also, for the most part, thinks of God as I Am, since that’s the name He gave to Moses. Here’s some of that portion of the story:

Some of [Zowan’s] intensity was born out of his frustration at not having the entire book. His fragment ended midsentence in chapter twelve, yet its words and stories had only sparked more questions. What kind of book was this? Why had it been designated for burning? Who was this Lord God who was said to have created the world and man and placed him in it? Was He real, or just a character in a story? The pages implied He was real. And deep in his heart Zowan thought they might be right.

Moreover, if this Lord God was real … he might still exist. In the stories He spoke personally with the men who served Him—Adam, Noah, and Abram. Might He still speak with those who served Him? He wondered, too, why no one in the Enclave had ever mentioned Him or the Key Study story, seeing as how New Eden bore the same name as the garden God had made in the first chapter of Genesis. Surely whoever had given New Eden its name had known of the book ….

Other strengths. The story was fast paced and engaging. I was thoroughly entertained and looked forward to reading the book every chance I could get. The plot was anything but simplistic. But that leads to the other side of the ledger.

Weaknesses. My main “complaint” was that the story went too fast in the end. I felt that the plot was sufficiently dense to require another two hundred or more pages, maybe even another book.

Lots of new ideas came to light towards the end—what happened to the missing girls, what were in the hidden boxes, how the enclave came into being, what was behind the protagonist’s post traumatic stress flashbacks—but these new threads and some of the old ones seemed to receive a hurried pass rather than full development.

Recommendation. If the first four hundred pages were book one of a series, I would be jumping out of my skin—enthused by the story, eager for the second half. But that “second half,” including a hurried conversion under less than believable circumstances (would Zowan really be fixated on his questions about the Key Study when he’d just discovered his whole life had been a lie and he was in danger of capture and death?) seemed too compressed. And still, I highly recommend The Enclave. Anyone who misses it will be the poorer. The topics it introduces are important, the faith it shows is encouraging. And besides, the story is just plain fun to read.

A Review – Eyes Like Stars


The Children’s Book Blog Tour, hosted by Kidz Book Buzz, is featuring Lisa Mantchev‘s first novel, the young adult fantasy Eyes Like Stars. I have to say, some reviews are harder than others, and this one falls into that category.

I supposed the difficulty is compounded by the fact that this book received some wonderful pre-release hype. Reviews were positive, even glowing. And it’s a fantasy! What’s not to like? 😉

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

The Story. A young foundling girl—mischievous, vivacious, and head-strong Beatrice Shakespeare Smith—grows up in a magical theater with four fairies and a pirate as her best friends. The pirate is actually one of the Players, none of which can leave the theater.

After one particularly destructive prank, Bertie is summoned to the Theater Director’s office. The plan is for him to ask her to leave the theater. But this is the only home she’s known, so she begs for an opportunity to prove she can contribute something essential to the theater.

Bertie comes up with the idea to be the Director (not Theater Director or Stage Director … apparently, the play director) and to re-stage Hamlet in such a way that will pack out the theater. The Theater Director gives her four days and stipulates that she must not only pack out the theater but receive a standing ovation as well.

But as Bertie commences her career as Director, more than she could imagine begins to go wrong.

Strengths. Ms. Mantchev is a talented writer. There are some beautiful lines of prose. The story is inventive. The magical theater can do amazing and unexpected things. The protagonist is a strong character. I don’t think I’ve ever met one like Bertie before. The fairies are fun and funny (though I do get the three guys mixed up with each other). The story is unpredictable. About the time I thought I knew where Ms. Mantchev was taking us, she shifted lanes and headed in a different direction.

Weaknesses. While I love the unpredictable, this story kept me so off balance it was hard to enjoy. I felt like readers who love Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland or Through the Looking-Glass might also enjoy Eyes Like Stars, but that’s not me.

Since I hadn’t read anything about the book, I was left to figure out the set up on my own. Where are we? Who are these people? Why can’t the Players leave the theater? By the end, I knew the answers to these questions, but I feel like I lost time. I could not live in this fictive world because I could not imagine what was not suggested.

In addition, I wasn’t sympathetic to the characters. I thought Bertie’s idea to re-constitute Hamlet was a weak idea at best, so it was hard to cheer her on to success. I thought she treated one character in particular in a shabby way, and in fact I didn’t agree with a lot of her decisions. She was a difficult character to like.

Recommendation. So here is a unique, unpredictable story, written with commendable prose … and I didn’t like it very much. In case you’re wondering, there is no attempt at presenting anything comparable to a Christian worldview. Pretty much the protagonist has her own moralistic outlook. She definitely changes and grows, but in the end, I didn’t particularly care.

But here’s the big deal as far as I’m concerned. I wonder how many young adults who are the targeted readers will connect with this story. This is no Harry Potter, with a rich, textured setting and well-defined characters. Bertie is smart and sassy, so maybe, if readers can get beyond the early confusion (e. g. she’s in her dressing room but on stage, with real fairies but they are flying suspended on wires) they’ll like the book well enough. For me, it didn’t live up to the pre-release hype.

Remember, mine is just one opinion. See what others touring Eyes Like Stars have to say:

The 160 Acre Woods, A Patchwork of Books, Abby the Librarian, All About Children’s Books, And Another Book Read, Becky’s Book Reviews, Dolce Bellezza, Fireside Musings, The Friendly Book Nook, Homeschool Book Buzz, Homespun Light, Hyperbole, KidzBookBuzz.com, Never Jam Today, Reading is My Superpower, Through a Child’s Eyes

Children’s Book Blog Tour – Savvy, a Review


Yesterday I promised a full review of Savvy, the current Children’s Book Blog Tour feature by award-winning novelist Ingrid Law. A proper review, I’ve discovered, is best if it starts with presentation, since that’s often the way book buyers come to a product.

Clearly Savvy‘s cover is flamboyant and attracts attention. What this image can’t show you, however, is that this picture is on the jacket of a hardback, a purple-covered hardback. More flamboyance. 😉 The pages are rough cut, the thick paper a cream, the font a little different than usual but not hard to read. In other words, everything about the look of this book works. It is attractive even as it prepares readers for the different kind of story they will find between the covers.

The Story. Savvy is Mibs Beaumont’s coming-of-age story. What makes this book a cut above other stories that fall into the coming-of-age category is Ms. Law’s use of the fantastic. Upon turning thirteen, members of the Beaumont family acquire their own personal “savvy” or power. Mibs’ brothers, for instance, can brew up a storm or create electricity. If these powers aren’t controlled, however, they put everyone nearby at serious risk. Consequently, the Beaumonts live somewhat reclusive lives.

Days before Mibs turns thirteen, her father is in an automobile accident. He’s hospitalized in another town and her mother hurries to his side. Mibs and her siblings are left in the care of the pastor and his wife. When Mibs’ special birthday finally arrives, the well-meaning Miss Rosemary decides to throw her a party.

During the chaotic activity, Mibs hears mysterious voices. As she searches for some quiet, she realizes that what she wants most is to go to her parents. She even believes she knows what her savvy is and that she will be able to help her father. Outside she sees a bus, the name of the town where her father lies in a hospital bed painted on the side. She hops on board with no other thought than to reach her parents. However, she doesn’t go alone. Her brothers join her, as do the pastor’s teenager son and daughter.

And so, the adventure begins.

Strengths. Ms. Law has crafted a timeless story, and she’s done it using the vehicle of the tall tale, reminiscent of the American era of storytelling (with the likes of Pecos Bill and Johnny Appleseed) that relied upon exaggeration as the main device. Here’s one of the best samples:

The top of the picnic table was covered in Grandma’s clear glass jars, each one with its own white label and metal lid. She’d given us kids the job of labeling the jars as she filled them. But it wasn’t peaches, tomatoes, or pickles that our grandma canned, it was radio waves. Grandma only ever picked the best ones—her favorite songs or stories or speeches, all broadcast by the local stations—but still, our basement was crowded with high shelves of dusty jars filled with years and years of radio programs. How Grandma Dollop put radio waves into those jars and got them to stay there was a mystery to me; she just had a way of reaching out and plucking them from the air like she was catching fireflies.

On Monday I mentioned some of the serious subjects Savvy touches on. That this book filled with whimsy and humor could also deal with topics of import makes it special.

Ms. Law also has given her first person narrator, Mibs, a strong voice. She is easy to identify with because her emotions are real, though not always likable.

Weaknesses. That brings me to the debit side of the ledger. As I mentioned in yesterday’s post, I found Mibs, a work in progress, not easy to like at the beginning of the book. I wanted to like her. After all, her father was in the hospital. But she seemed to overreact when snooty girls called her a seemingly harmless name. She seemed haughty in her glee about leaving school behind. She seemed unnecessarily resistant to Miss Rosemary and to Will when they treated her with kindness. It all makes sense as the picture of the reclusive family comes together, but my initial reaction was that Mibs was a tough little girl to like.

A second problem that also rectified itself was the middle of the book. When Mibs makes the decision to go to her father, there is a long stretch of bus riding. Important things happen, but there was a point where I started worrying that the rest of the story would take place aboard that bus. It doesn’t, and I was thankful for the way the action picked up. I would liked to have seen … not sure what, conflict? forward action? I think I would like to have seen Mibs do something rather than be taken somewhere. The story gains momentum as soon as she becomes the initiator again.

Recommendation. Savvy deserves the attention it has received. It’s the Boston Globe-Horn Book Honor Award winner and a Newbery Honor winner. As others on the blog tour have noted, Savvy is a wonderful read-aloud. I highly recommend this book for middle grade readers, parents, and teachers of middle grade students.

Speaking of other on the blog tour, Maw’s Book Blog is giving away a copy of Savvy and so is Dolce Bellezza. Through a Child’s Eyes gives you a list of other books you might like if you also like Savvy. Here’s the complete list of participants:

Published in: on April 29, 2009 at 1:00 pm  Comments (12)  
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